Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Doug Martsch seems fairly inscrutable . . . but maybe I haven’t tried hard enough. I would love to know what he was thinking when, having signed to a major label, he decided to present the suits with an album of eight songs, three of them over seven minutes long and another three over six. No single for you, Warner Bros., and you can fuck right off with the idea that any of these are getting played on the radio. Perhaps more interesting is that this album was recorded three times:  first, Martsch played everything but drums, and not surprisingly, didn’t like the result; then, the tapes of the second attempt melted in producer Phil Eks’s car.

What I Think of This Album

Arguably the best Built To Spill album (competing with Keep It Like a Secret), this is a stunning achievement. My imagination is too poverty-stricken to guess at how Martsch wrote these songs and constructed the dozens if not hundreds of guitar parts. If there was a prog element lurking in some of his earlier work, it came out fully here, but tempered by his indie pop roots (not for nothing did he team up with K Records/Beat Happening leader Calvin Johnson in the Halo Benders side project) and his raw Neil Young-inspired guitar playing, eschewing both the cold, calculating celebration of skill and the silly lyrics of that malign genre.

Songs stretch out here, and the guitars (courtesy of both Martsch and Brett Netson) swirl around, lay traps, disappear and reappear, poke holes, fingerpaint, chime, growl, flip like dolphins, and tumble like toddlers, and still find a way to lock in with cello, mellotron, and Moog, to create jaw-dropping tapestries that, for all their intricacy and length, are super-melodic and contain memorable lyrics.

Opus “Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)” – which just falls short of nine minutes – tears into its subject with lines like “you don’t like anything / “Cause you’re unlikeable / All ‘cause you’re not interested in you anymore” and the unforgettable “And God is whoever you’re performing for” before adopting a kinder tone with “I know you / Wouldn’t be the way you feel if you could choose / What are you gonna do?” “Velvet Waltz” is the next longest track, barely edging past the 8:30 mark, and indeed is a (speedy) waltz, but of course, is so much more, and also has Martsch laying into the listener:  “You thought of everything / But some things can’t be thought / You thought of everything / But one thing you forgot is you’re wrong.” Behind this, there is a keening cello, and guitars send sprawling notes all across the universe, leaving ghostly afterimages, while Scott Plouf (the Spinanes) pounds away on the drums.

The celestial and the infinite get a thorough exploration on opener “Randy Described Eternity,” with surging chord progressions and an unexpected piano from Plouf. The cello takes a lead role in snaky and pretty “I Would Hurt a Fly,” which ends up rocking out very credibly; there are guitar parts in the final two minutes that remind me of the Smiths. This is the Pacific Northwest band Johnny Marr should have joined instead of Modest Mouse. “Stop the Show” slowly builds and then explodes, and then gets weird. “Made Up Dreams” actually sounds a little like classic rock, but through an oil slick rainbow . . . and on the other side of the Northern Lights . . . and inside out. Look, the rest of the album is amazing. Everything here is mind-blowing. Fucking buy this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Untrustable” is unparalleled.

Release Date

January, 1997

The Cover Art

This is an ugly cover, but I couldn’t give a shit because it’s such a beautiful album. I found similar but different versions of the cover online, which I have no explanation for. The image at right matches what I own. This was designed by Tae Won You, of underground legend Kicking Giant.

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